Monday, 17 February 2014

Townsville - 8-10 February 2013

Leaving Proserpine approximately 9:30am, I set off on the three hour drive north to Townsville to attend John Young’s once-off public presentation of the Night Parrot. I figured I may as well stay two nights in Townsville and hopefully tick off a few new species, especially Black-throated Finch and Rufous Owl.

Stopping in at Cungulla Beach, just South of Townsville, there were huge numbers of waders. But as the tide was out and the mud on the flats was more like quicksand, I couldn’t get a decent view – they were probably Great Knots. I saw a few solitary birds wading closer by. Pointing my camera and binoculars, I discovered that they were Lesser and Great Sand Plovers, with one solitary Grey Plover wandering around. Grey Plovers are sure not all that rare, but still a tick for me and the first for the trip.

This is a horrible 100% crop – the bird, whilst closer than the Knots, was still miles away!

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Leaving Cungulla Beach, I checked in to my accommodation in Townsville and headed off to JCU to attend John Young’s Night Parrot presentation.

After the presentation, I headed off to an area of Townsville where some Rufous Owls were known to breed. In early January, the chicks were fully fledged so it was doubtful if the owls would still be around. They weren’t. I visited the spot on 3 different occasions and they were nowhere to be seen. A disappointing dip, but Townsville is only 3 hours away so I will make sure I visit at a better time for the owls later this year. 

The following day, I started off visiting the mouth of the Ross River which was down the road from my accommodation. Nothing there to speak of except two Bar-tailed Godwits, so I decided to visit one of Townsville’s Northern Beaches, Bushland Beach to see me some waders – hopefully Red Knot which I missed out on in Cairns. At Bushland Beach I was again greeted by hundreds of waders, mainly Great Knot, with a few godwits, sand plovers and a one Pacific Golden Plover thrown into the mix. Locking onto a small flock of birds with the binoculars, I noticed the smaller, thicker bill and more uniform colouring over the wings. Finally, some Red Knots! They flew off before I could get any photos and joined the hundreds of Great Knots.

Great Knots (Calidris tenuirostris)
Walking back towards the shore, I heard a Mangrove Gerygone calling from the mangroves. Embarrassingly enough, this would be another new bird for me. I tried coaxing it out to no avail, so decided to head back to my car to get my phone to play a quick call. I spotted a boat ramp and figured this would be a good means to get back to the car. Not noticing how slipperly it was, I placed my foot on ramp and proceeded to go @rse over tit and smash my collarbone, knees, elbow and 7D and 100-400 lens on the cement. The camera and lens survived thankfully, but I had a lot of bruises and missing skin to show for it! Whilst walking away swearing at my predicament, I didn’t see a small rock covered in oysters and to proceeded to accidentally kick it on the way past, giving myself a nice big cut under my foot. Long story short, I got back to the car with blood everywhere, got my phone, went back to the mangroves and coaxed the Mangrove Gerygone out and then headed back to the Hotel to clean myself up!

Mangrove Gerygone (Gerygone levigaster)
Later that afternoon, I ventured out on the Flinders Highway to visit a spot which Stanley Tang gave me the coordinates for to hopefully see Black-throated Finch. Arriving at the location, I walked around for about 20 minutes before spying a flock of finches in the grass. They were Zebra Finches. Spotting another small group of finches soon after, I got excited before the binoculars revealed they were Double-barred Finches. Circling back to where I came from, I spooked two small birds feeding on the grass which I didn’t see. They flew into a tree about a hundred metres away – two Black-throated Finches. One landed about 1m off the ground on a perfect perch, however I only had my 100-400 so missed a great photo opportunity. Not to worry, at least it was a tick and a decent photo could wait for next time! A family of Black-faced Woodswallows also watched on as some silly dude trampled around after a finch which wouldn't sit still.

Black-throated Finch (Poephila cincta)

Black-faced Woodswallow (Artamus cinereus)
A total of 4 new species for the trip. I had hoped to see 6, but 4 is better than nothing. I have terrible luck when it comes to seeing owls, so hopefully next time I have a bit better luck!

Saturday, 15 February 2014

FNQ Trip October 2013 - Part 4: Michaelmas Cay and Trip Home

On the morning of 11th October, I caught the bus to the Cairns Jetty to board Seastar – a smaller vessel which conduct tours to Michaelmas Cay and Hastings Reef. The vessel holds about 35 people and is the first to arrive at Michaelmas Cay, much better than dealing with 100’s of people on other vessels. Given I had an open wound, I was unable to go swimming, so just had to rely on the birds.

Arriving at the Cay at approximately 9:30am, I ticked off 6 species in as many seconds – Great Frigatebird, Sooty Tern (hundreds), Common Noddy (hundreds), Black Noddy (only a few hidden amongst the Common Noddy), Brown Booby and somewhat embarrassing, Lesser Crested Tern which seems to be absent down my way. Also present were Bridled Tern on the buoys off the Cay, Lesser Frigatebird and Crested Tern. I dipped on Masked Bobby, Red-footed Booby and any others that occasionally are around the Cay such as Pomarine Jaegar, White-tailed Tropicbird, Southern Giant Petrel etc. But 6 ticks in quick succession was enough for me – I was up to 36 – just one more bird needed to hit the 300 on the life list!

Approaching Michaelmas Cay
Breeding Colony on Michaelmas Cay

Brown (Common) Noddy (Anous stolidus) on egg
 A full resolution video of the birds at the Cay can be viewed at:

The next morning, the tide was miles out along the Esplanade, so no more checks to see if any new waders were turning up. I hung around Cairns for lunch before departing to Mission Beach for my next night’s stay – dropping into Etty Bay along the way. I quickly ducked into the turf farm south of Cairns to see if Little Curlew or any other interesting birds were present. There was nothing, not a solitary bird. The plan, if it were to go to script, would be to tick off Southern Cassowary at Etty Bay and therefore use Mission Beach to relax and recuperate without worrying about running around trying to find a Cassowary.

Along the way I stopped off at Mount Bartle Frere just north of Innisfail – the highest Mountain in Queensland. Arriving at Etty Bay Road just before 1pm, I can remember uttering the words “please God let me find a Cassowary”. Literally a few seconds later, I rounded a corner and there on the side of the road was an adult Southern Cassowary – number 37 for the trip and my 300th bird on the life list. The bird simply went about its business as around 4 cars were parked on the side of the road taking its photo. The bird casually scratched around before walking up the road – oblivious to the fact that there were 3 cars waiting for it to get off the road. After never trying to see the Cassowary in the wild, it was great to find the bird so easily – one of the highlights of the trip and a great way to bring up the 300, even if the time of day didn’t allow for a good photograph.

Southern Cassowary (Casuarius casuarius)
There was a huge Surf Life Saving carnival at Etty Bay, so I didn’t stick around and drove to Hibiscus Lodge – a B&B in Mission Beach which would be my accommodation for the night. The owners are lovely people, the accommodation very nice and Cassowaries wonder through their garden most mornings, especially an 11-month old bird (at the time of my visit), called Peanut. The bird was called Peanut as it was first seen when it was 24 hours old, when “Dad”, one of the local males responsible for raising many clutches of chicks, brought the chick for a visit. The bird was just a small, fluffy thing which due to its small size and colour got the name Peanut. That afternoon I just relaxed and went on a quick bushwalk which yielded nothing of interest.

The next morning after a beautiful breakfast, the owners of the B&B took me next door to meet their neighbours who are wildlife carers. I got to cuddle some joeys that they were looking after, as well as check out a Papuan Frogmouth nest in their backyard. Still too high up for any decent photos, but still nice to see. While we were talking, Peanut – the 11 month old juvenile cassowary decided to make a visit, walking up to the fence to check us out before having a drink out of a drinking trough the property owners leave out and wondering off into the bushes. I got to see Peanut again about 20 minutes later when he visited the B&B, walking right up to the house porch, about 2m away from where I was standing. A nice way to end my stay at Mission Beach.

The next day it was off to Townsville for a night’s stay in order to break up the 5.5-6hr drive back to Proserpine. I quickly called into Ingham to tick off Black-faced Woodswallow at the Cemetery – a bird I didn’t bother going after when I was in Ingham at the start of the trip. No new birds to report that day.

On Monday 14th October, it was time to leave Townsville for the 3hr drive back home. I didn’t expect to see another bird, but a gentleman at the Ingham workshops told me to visit Horseshoe Lagoon after I told him about dipping on White-browed Crake in Ingham. Arriving at the Lagoon’s bird hide just before midday, I saw the rear end of a bird dart into the reeds. Definitely a crake, but I didn’t get a good enough look to ID. I thought that was the last I would see of it. I waited quietly in the hide for 10 minutes before the bird ventured out into the open – as I suspected, a White-browed Crake! Bird 302 and the last new bird for the trip (I saw Australian Hobby later on thinking it was a lifer, but found out later I had seen it elsewhere but forgot).

White-browed Crake (Porzana cinerea)
Arriving back home in the afternoon, the adrenaline from the trip wore off and I went downhill with my leg infection and required 2 nights in hospital. A price worth paying in order to see 39 new species of bird and boost the life list from 263 to 302. I would have liked to have been more able-bodied during the trip, but seeing 39 new species in 11 days is not too bad with one leg. Now to get to 400 – that’s just a dream for the time being!

FNQ Trip October 2013 - Part 3: Daintree and Cairns Esplanade

After 2 days at Kingfisher Park and seeing the majority of what I wanted to see (don’t mention that Lesser Sooty Owl!), it was time to head to the next stop – the Daintree – 9 October 2013.

View from the Atherton Tablelands
Coming down from the Tablelands there were a few areas where you could pull off the road and take photos of a scenic lookout. I did the touristy thing and took a photo with my mobile – that’s how many tourists take photos nowadays anyway!

Getting back to sea level, I decided to pop into Port Douglas for lunch – a very touristy town. In the trees of the main street, I heard Yellow Oriole (a lifer), but I was buggered if I could see it up in the fig tree. I managed to get a glance of two birds flying away which were probably Yellow Orioles, but ummed and arred whether or not to tick it. I needn’t have worried – the bloody things were everywhere in the Daintree!

In the Daintree that afternoon, I only managed to tick off Yellow Oriole (nearly in every second tree along the Daintree River) and Shining Flycatcher – a bird I am sure I have seen before, but was not ticked off on the life list. The next day however was the one I was waiting for – to hopefully see the Great-billed Heron and Papuan Frogmouth on the Daintree River cruise. I had reservations however, as some Americans at Red Mill house said that the Great-billed Herons have only been seen 50% of the time on the Daintree River cruises. I was sure to be in the 50% who dipped!

Shining Flycatcher (Myiagra alecto)

Welcome Swallow (Hirundo neoxena)

Early the next morning on the 10th, I decided to drive the 50m down the road to the jetty given I could barely walk on my leg and I had heavy equipment to carry. After somehow getting bogged in the car park at Red Mill house, waking up the owners who had to drag me out, I was off with Ian ‘Sauce’ Worcester to see what the Daintree River had to offer.
The first part of the trip yielded no new birds; so I was starting to worry that I might well be in the 50% who dipped on the Heron. Just as we rounded a corner in the River, there sitting out in the open on the bank of the River was a beautiful adult Great-billed Heron. Ian manoeuvred the boat to allow for good light and photographic opportunities before the heron flew off to another part of the river. It was the best sighting I could have hoped for as many just see it concealed in the bushes. Although there were some distracting elements around the bird, at least it was a clear shot – even if we ended up getting a bit too close to fit the bird in the frame.

Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana)

Juvenile Great-billed Heron (Ardea sumatrana)

Ian then said it was time to show me the Papuan Frogmouth. We entered a creek which runs of the Daintree River and Ian slowed the boat under a tree which looked to have nothing in it. But after having a proper look and guided by Ian’s pointing, there was a male Papuan Frogmouth sitting on a nest. Another tick! We were also greeted by a young Great-billed Heron who lived in these parts who apparently is harassed quite regularly by an older immature.

Papuan Frogmouth (Podargus papuensis )

Finishing the cruise it was time to head back to Red Mill House for brekky and to head off to Cairns for the next leg of trip.

Arriving in Cairns at about 11:30am, a quick walk along the boardwalk quickly yielded Great Knot, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpiper which was already ticked off earlier in the trip, Terek Sandpiper and Varied Honeyeater. Also on the beach of the Esplanade were two Pink-eared Ducks – a weird location for these birds.

The next day was the trip to Michaelmas Cay, so after dinner and a bit of TV and repacking and dressing the leg, it was time for bed. With the list currently at 30 new species and 3 days to go, I started to believe that I may just make the 37 species required to hit 300! Although after Michaelmas Cay, my only real chance of a new bird I thought would be Cassowary at Mission Beach or Etty Bay, so I worried that I might just fall short of 37.

FNQ Trip October 2013 - Part 2: Kingfisher Park (Julatten)

Leaving Ingham on the 7th October, I made tracks to the Atherton Tablelands for 2 nights at Kingfisher Park in Julatten – probably the best bird watching lodge in the country.

On route to Kingfisher Park, I decided to have a quick drive down Hastie Road near Atherton to try and tick off Sarus Crane. Found two of them in a cattle field without any effort – I like that sort of birding!

Passing through Mareeba on the way to Mount Molloy, I ticked off a large group of Helmeted Guineafowl – a feral species, but this population is a noted wild population, so still very much tickable. I also most likely ticked off a speeding fine which will be on its way in the mail – not responding to an 80km zone quick enough. I am hoping by some miracle the speed camera got the car in front and not me!

I arrived at Kingfisher Park at around 3:00pm and quickly ticked off Australian Swiftlet (sure I have seen these before, but were not ticked on the life list), Yellow-spotted Honeyeater, Graceful Honeyeater and Pale-yellow Robin. I also met Rochelle Stevens, the student in the latest Australian Birdlife magazine or who doing a PhD on avitourism. I filled out a few questionnaires to help her with the study.
Pale-yellow Robin (Tregellasia capito)
Try as I might, I just couldn’t see the Yellow-breasted Boatbill and Pied Monarch. Apparently they were around and common, but I was getting a little annoyed by not being able to tick off these relatively common birds.That night I joined Keith and Lindsay Fisher (and a few Americans) on a night walk. A few other student’s travelling with Rochelle joined us for the first part of the trip, but then went their separate ways. There was nothing out that night apart from Barn Owl and some Red-footed Pademelons.

Eastern Barn Owl (Tyto delicatula)

Common Emerald Dove (Chalcophaps indica)
It was not until the following day where I ran into Rochelle and her student friends on Mount Lewis that they showed me a photograph they took about 30mins after the night walk had finished. A beautiful Lesser Sooty Owl just 20m from the Kingfisher Park lodge, in clear view about 5m off the ground. I am still punching myself that I didn’t go with the student’s on their walk as any attempt to find the Lesser Sooty during my time at the Park came to nothing.

At Mount Lewis I easily ticked off Atherton Scrubwren and Yellow-throated Scrubwren as well as Double-eyed Fig-parrot – luckily as the latter eluded me for the rest of the trip. On the way up the Mountain I stopped to have a look at a group of small birds hopping around the top of the trees. I hoped they were Mountain Thornbills, but they were Brown Gerygones – still a new tick though! I ran into Rochelle and her friends at the top of Mount Lewis and with their help, I was able to see Mountain Thornbill hopping madly around the top of a tree.

Returning to Kingfisher Park that afternoon, it was my last real chance to see Pied Monarch and Yellow-breasted Boatbill. Knowing playback was not encouraged, I got away from the lodge a bit and played a 5 second call of the Boatbill and Monarch – both successful in bringing in the birds within a few seconds. A great way to finish my time at the Park with two ticks bringing the total to 21 new species (no good images, though), however that bloody Lesser Sooty Owl is still a sore point…

Friday, 14 February 2014

FNQ Trip October 2013 - Part 1: Ingham

On the 4th October 2013 I set off from Proserpine on route to Ingham for the Birdlife Photography Workshop, then onwards to Atherton Tablelands, Daintree, Cairns and Mission Beach before returning home via an overnight stay in Townsville. 
Just two days before I was due to leave, I had to go to hospital to have an abscess opened up in my leg. This meant one leg for the whole trip and daily visits to hospital to get the wound repacked and redressed. After 3 days of doing this at the Ingham Hospital each morning, I had enough and just packed and dressed the wound myself for the rest of the trip. Tedious, but beats sitting in a Hospital ED for hours when I could be birding!
The whole trip was planned for seeing new birds first and foremost, with photography being very much secondary. I wanted to see at least 36 new species to bump my life list up over 300, but thought this would be unlikely so would be happy with at least 20 (new species in bold font). 

I left home at around 10:30am and stopped in at Toomulla Beach (just North of Townsville) on the way to Ingham and ticked off Lovely Fairy-wren thanks to the great advice from Daniel Venema. Two beautiful males and an equally beautiful female. They were hard to find at first, but found them on a beach track from a park - beautiful little birds. First new tick for the trip! Arriving at Ingham, I crossed the road from my motel to the Tyto Wetlands precinct (not the wetlands itself) and quickly ticked off the exceptionally Crimson Finch (absent from my area) and Green-pygmy Goose (we usually just get the Cotton-pygmy here). Off to a decent start with 3 new ticks on the drive up.
Crimson Finch (Neochmia phaeton)
The next 2.5 days were spent in Ingham for the Birdlife Australia Photography Workshop. It was great to meet many different people, some birders, some photographers, some both. I learnt that some people really to go almost absurd lengths to get an image, included catching their own mice, tying them to fishing line and then casting them out in the field to lure in owls. It was especially great to meet fellow F&P members Daniel Venema and Paul Randall. Both great guys and an absolute pleasure to spend time with!!! I was lucky enough to attend one of Paul’s workshop talks about “Creating Unique Images”. Both Daniel and I very much enjoyed Paul’s talk and learning how he approaches his bird photography. 

The arranged morning walks were out for me as I had to go to hospital each morning, but just doing the afternoon walks I was able to tick off Curlew Sandpiper, Whiskered Tern and Pink-eared Ducks at Mungalla Station and Brown-backed Honeyeater and White-winged Triller (just seem to get Varied Triller here) at Tyto Wetlands.

Pink-eared Ducks (Malacorhynchus membranaceus) 
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Calidris acuminata)
Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
Whiskered Tern (Chlidonias hybrida)

On the final afternoon, I decided not to do the afternoon trip to Mungalla Station given I went the day before, instead opting to visit Tyto Wetlands to try and tick off White-browed Crake (apparently common and would be my first ever crake tick) and Little Bittern which were sighted the morning before. I saw nothing. Whilst Daniel travelled to Mungalla Station and saw Australian Pratincole (would have been a lifer for me) and Pacific Golden Plover (not a lifer, but still a nice bird to see). I was just a little bit annoyed at myself wasting the whole afternoon with nothing to show for it

After a great few days in Ingham, it was time to hobble out of Ingham and onto bigger and better things in the birding world - next stop Kingfisher Park at Julatten in the Atherton Tablelands (with a few detours on the way). Leaving Ingham with 8 ticks under the belt, seeing at least 20 new species seemed very achievable, but not being able to walk very well or very far, seeing 36+ species was just not going to happen.